The imminent trial of Vladimir Farafonov, an ethnic Russian journalist charged with inciting racial hatred by penning a series of offensive online publications, is fueling debates about chauvinism, due process and press freedom in his native Kyrgyzstan.
Farafonov’s delayed trial is now set to begin March 15. He stands accused of violating Article 299 of the Kyrgyz criminal code, which covers the incitement of “national, racial, religious or interregional enmity” via mass media. Watchdogs including the Committee to Project Journalists have criticized the charges as “politically motivated.”
While few disagree that Farafonov’s articles include distasteful and offensive anti-Kyrgyz slurs, the case offers a fairness test for Kyrgyzstan’s justice system: amid a rise in nationalist rhetoric since the ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010, no ethnic Kyrgyz have stood before a court on a charge comparable to that faced by Farafonov.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.